EDITORIAL: Residents still paying Pasminco cleanup costs

THERE’S been a bit of good news around Boolaroo lately.

In August, $2.2 million in federal funding was announced for a 700-metre extension of Munibung Road to link the suburb with Cardiff.

Just a few days ago, the NSW Court of Appeal found in favour of Bunderra Holdings, the developer of a residential estate on part of the former Pasminco smelter site, hopefully ending a long-running drainage dispute that has stopped property owners in the estate from building their homes.

But when it comes to the situation facing householders in lead-contaminated houses near the former smelter, it still looks very much like the ordinary person in the street is being left to pay the price of an expensive clean-up that should never have been their responsibility in the first place.

Over time, the Newcastle Herald has reported the travails of many residents, left bewildered and near-broke in trying to deal with the legacy of lead contamination on their properties.

In the latest example, Boolaroo residents Trudi Field and Martin Robertson have been forced to spend almost $70,000 just to get the rear of their property ready to accept the dwelling they’d been wanting to build as a retirement nest egg.

Had they been forced to remove the contaminated soil – rather than cap and contain it – the cost would have been even greater.

After pressure from the Herald’s Toxic Truth campaign, the government has waived a $138.20 a tonne waste levy, but dumping contaminated soil at Summerhill will still cost $275 a tonne – a substantial impost for households left holding the can through no fault of their own.   

Pasminco collapsed in 2001 owing $2.6 billion, but the parent company was refloated a year later, as Zinifex, after jettisoning the Boolaroo smelter and other problematic assets. Australian Securities and Investments Commission records indicate that Pasminco is still under voluntary administration. By early 2015, administrators Ferrier Hodgson had collected more than $33 million in fees, having overseen the clean-up of the main site.

But out on the streets of Boolaroo, hard-stretched householders are still paying the price. In the words of Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan: ‘‘There is no fairness in any of this. The residents have been completely dudded throughout the whole process.’’

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